Dream green: future possibilities

William Witwer

Gretchen Grimm '12 weeds at the Organic Garden during one of its open garden hours. Credit: Hong
Gretchen Grimm '12 weeds at the Organic Garden during one of its open garden hours. Credit: Hong
A communal Whitman farm might seem like a far-fetched idea with little possibility of success. Nonetheless as senior Sustainability Coordinator Lisa Curtis describes it, it would be “pretty awesome.”

“There are a couple of freshmen who want a farm at Whitman, they want a farm by the time they graduate,” said Curtis.

Almost all environmental projects at Whitman have been introduced by determined students doggedly pursuing their goals. The idea of a farm is a proposed extension of the organic garden from which, ideally, Bon Appétit would be able to buy their food directly. In the vein of encouraging students to pursue exciting projects like these, Whitman has created the Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund.

“The college set aside $25,000 for good ideas that have an initial start up cost but would save money over a five year period,” said Co-Chair of the Conservation and Recycling Committee Jed Schwendiman.

While the college is obviously hoping to get that money back, the idea is that without the barrier of the start-up cost, Whitman can become a more sustainable community through the proposals of interested students and faculty.

Campus Climate Challenge activists fight for change during a campus-wide march. Credit: Hong
Campus Climate Challenge activists fight for change during a campus-wide march. Credit: Hong
One such proposal on the table right now is to install more aerators on faucets to reduce water flow.

“Over the four years I’ve been here I’ve seen a lot of student-led initiatives grow,” said Curtis. “For example, Campus Climate Challenge started when I was a freshman –– it was just someone’s idea, like hey, we should look at our carbon footprint. And now the group has 100-something people on the listserv and they have done a ton.”

Student environmental initiatives remain a consistent staple of improvement, and there are a vast multitude of ideas going around. For example, Campus Climate Challenge focuses on getting climate change legislation passed in the Senate. On Monday, September 21, they organized a “flash mob” to call senators of the participants regarding this issue.   Campus Greens, on the other hand, continues to direct its efforts towards changing the world on a smaller scale.

“Campus Greens this year is focusing more on creating community as a means of getting people involved,” said Curtis. “So they’re doing more art nights, and planting blueberries, and making pie, and really really awesome fun stuff.”

While their methods are entirely opposite, both Campus Greens and Campus Climate Change try to make a meaningful difference to the environment.

Students have also been instrumental in helping with Whitman-led projects, such as the Solar Energy Project. In just two years, the installation of solar panels was completed without even resorting to the use of the Sustainability Revolving Loan Fund.

“That’s a pretty quick turnaround,” said Schwendiman. “It was just a matter of all the right things coming together, and it allowed us to create this photo-voltaic system that now offsets 20 percent  of the electricity use of the building and 54 percent  of the cost of electricity for that building.” Student fundraising was essential to the speed of the Solar Energy Project’s completion.

Greek life at Whitman is also trying to be more environmentally friendly, as Lauren McCullough, the new Green Chair of Kappa Kappa Gamma, explains.

“Basically it’s my job to try and work within my sorority, Kappa Kappa Gamma, to make us more environmentally sustainable in any way possible,” said McCullough. “I think, as a campus, there is a lot of improvement to be done. But I think that really needs to come from a personal level. I think on an individual level there are a lot more that people can be doing.”

However environmentally conscious, individual students do have a lot of ideas. In fact, the position of Sustainability Coordinator, currently held by senior Curtis, was lobbied for by the current senior class.